The Thakhek Loop

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Thakhek is a small town in south-central Laos. It lies right next to the Mekong river and therefore also close to the Thai border. It also is the starting point for “The Thakhek Loop” – a 3-4 day motorbike tour leading you to all the best sights in the area. Several day trips are also offered around town, but we highly recommend to get on a scooter or motorbike to take the 500 km trip. It is the best way to enjoy the stunning landscape and to explore central Laos in a very special way.

How to get there?

If you are in northern Laos you can take a bus from Vientianne (5h ride). Tickets can be bought directly at the bus station or via a travel agency/your hotel. From the south you can take a bus leaving from Pakse or Savannaketh (3h ride). Here you should buy your ticket directly at the bus station.

Highlights

Along the route of “The Thakek Loop” there are a lot of things to do and see. Our highlight was ride through the Nakai Plateau as the landscape is absolutely beautiful. We often had the road all to ourselves. Furthermore we highly recommend to take a trip down to Konglor as well and visit the Konglor Cave with its 7.5 km underground river. We did the tour end October which unfortunately still was a bit rainy. Therefore we could not visit all sights as some were not accessible.

How long to stay?

If you want to do “The Thakhek Loop” you do not really need much time in Thakhek. We spent two nights in a very nice hotel as we arrived quite late and wanted to have some more time to prepare our trip and our further travels afterwards. In general it will do if you stay for 1 night in Thakhek before you start the tour and maybe a second one when you come back. We came back around 1 pm and directly continued our journey to Savannaketh.

Where to stay?

We stayed at a place called Villa Thakhek for 19 EUR per night. We had quite a luxurious double room with aircon, private bathroom, TV and Wifi. Close to the “posh” rooms you will find the Thakhek Travel Lodge (both places are run by the same people) offering more basic and much cheaper accommodation. The place is located close to the bus station and therefore about 2 km away from the city center. The hotel restaurant offers good food at reasonable prices.

  • Our recommendations

    The route We decided to do the tour anti-clockwise. We left Thakhek following route 12 going east in the direction of Mahaxai. Afterwards we headed north passing Gnommalath and Nakai until we reached Laksao via route 1E. Then we went west on route 8 until we reached a town called Ban Nahin. From here we went south on route 5345 until we reached the tiny town Konglor. Instead of heading back street 5345 and continuing the tour towards the west via route 8 and south via route 13 we decided to go back all the way we came. Route 13 is the biggest and most important road in Laos and therefore has a lot of traffic which makes it quite unpleasant to drive. Furthermore there is not really anything to do/see along this street.
    The bike We rented our bike at Mad Monkey Motorbike in the city center of Thakhek. This place offers awesome service, the bikes are in a very good shape and (what seemed most important to us) all the bikes have number plates. So in case something happens you will be on the safe side and will neither have problems with your insurance, nor the local authorities/police. We saw lots of fellow “Loopers“ driving bikes without number plates as a lot of shops in town do not seem to care. We also heard stories about people getting arrested after accidents due to driving a not registered bike. Mad Monkey Motorbike also offers to pick you up along the road in case you do not want or cannot continue the journey. And if your bike breaks down they will bring you a new one or at least take care of it. In case you are traveling with a lot of luggage: You can leave it at the shop. We rented a Honda Click 125 which worked fine for us two. But we have to admit that after the first day sitting quickly becomes quite unpleasant. We think that a Honda Wave 100 would also have been a good choice as the streets can get quite muddy and bumpy. Especially if you want to do „The Thakhek Loop“ in high season (starting in November) you should reserve a bike in advance.
    The Map Your bike rental will provide you with some advice and a map. You will also find some quite good maps online. We really liked the map which is displayed at the Villa Thakhek/Thakhek Travel Lodge. It has all the attractions, guest houses and much more on it. At this hotel you will also find some journals with entries of people who already finished “The Thakhek Loop“. It is quite a good source for inspiration.
    Cave Alley East of Thakhek on route 12 you will pass Cave Alley. Here you can wander or boat through more than six caves. You can also paddle on lagoons and fish-filled lakes. Most of the caves are clearly marked by signs so it will be quite easy to find them. The most visited ones are Elephant Cave, Xiang Liab Cave and Buddha Cave. There also are two places where you can stop for a swim: Nong Tao Lake and Tha Farang.
    Nakai Plateau As route 12 leaves Cave Alley, the road begins twisting up through mountains lined with rice paddies. After passing the town Gnommalath heading further north, you soon will find yourself winding through the Nakai Plateau’s karst-lined road. You soon will see the Nam Theun River leading to the Nam Theun 2 Dam. Here you can stop at the dam’s visitor center to get some interesting information about the dam project.
    Thalang This is the town where we spent our first (and also the third) night. We chose a place called Phosy Thalang Guest House. We spent the night in a small jungle bungalow next to the lake at around 7 EUR per night. If you arrive early enough make sure to enjoy the sunset and have a dip in the lake as well. The place is owned by a very nice couple and also has a great restaurant where you can order fresh home-cooked food. In our opinion the best food we had in whole Laos. We highly recommend the garlic fried chicken.
    Cool Springs The cool springs are a natural pond located close to Ban Napakvan. You will see a sign leading you there. Probably your navigation app will also show you a road, but in the end you will have to pass a huge field in the middle of nowhere with no proper road. We could not go all way as at some point we had to cross a river, but unfortunately the bridge was broken and the river was just too full of water. This might be no problem in high season.
    Nasanam Twin Waterfalls These waterfalls are located in Ban Nahin. Once you enter the town you soon will see a huge sign with an advertisement. This is where the entrance is. The ticket is around 1 EUR. In high season you might also have to pay for parking your bike. You can either leave your bike directly at the entrance and hike 3 km to the waterfalls. Or ride the first 1.5 km on your bike and then hike the rest. The hike itself is quite nice as it leads you through the jungle all the time. Although the path sometimes is a bit hidden and not easy, it still is a lot of fun and the waterfalls itself are quite nice. Make sure to hike further up once you reach a smaller drop of the falls (from here you will only see one of the two big falls). You can easily climb the right side of the smaller drop and continue your hike over some big rocks.
    Konglor Cave From Ban Nahin you should take road 5345 further south until you reach Konglor. Here we stayed for our second night at the Phounsouk Guest House for around 7 EUR. We arrived quite late and had to drive the road in the dark. The road is quite nice in the beginning but the last few km are just awful. But this way we could start exploring Konglor Cave very early in the morning, leaving us enough time to get back to Thalang. Konglor Cave is an absolute must. The cave with its 7.5 km underground river is insane. At some points the river gets up to 90 m wide and the cave rises up to 100 m above the river. You have to board a motorized long-tail boat to take a tour. A tour costs 11 EUR and up to 3 people fit in one boat. For every passenger they will add 1 EUR as entrance fee. So if you go with three persons you end up paying 14 EUR in total which is quite a good deal. You can borrow headlights and flip-flops as well (it is pitch black inside the cave and sometimes you have to leave the boat and pass some rapids by foot, so you will get wet and probably also dirty) You also have to pay around 0,30 EUR to enter the national park and 0,60 EUR for parking your bike.
    Petrol Do not worry about having to bring a plastic bottle of petrol. The whole track is covered in petrol stations and when we took it they were even building additional ones.
    ATM You will find ATMs along the road. Especially in bigger villages or small towns.
    Further advice Try to arrive at your destination before it gets dark. The streets do not have lights and most of them are not in a good condition. Furthermore cars, busses and trucks will not drive carefully and might not see you on the windy and sometimes tiny roads.

Costs

Motorbike: 63,00 EUR*
Petrol: 10,00 EUR
Guest Houses: 20,00 EUR**
Entrance Fees/Guides/Parking: 19,00 EUR
Food/Drinks: 62,00 EUR
Broken Mirror: 4,00 EUR***
TOTAL costs for two people: 178,00 EUR

 

*We shared one bike to save some money for renting a second one. We rented it for four days.
**We booked accommodation for three nights.
***We slipped on a muddy road when skipping half the hike to the Nasanam Twin Falls. Unfortunately we destroyed one mirror and therefore had to replace it.

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